Mike Dean is the latest referee in the spotlight for his performance in the league game between West Ham and Manchester United on the 2nd January. In case you missed it, Feghouli was sent off with a straight red card only 15 minutes into the game: a punishment that no viewer could understand. It was ridiculous that only Feghouli was punished for a tackle mirrored by Jones and the decision had a ripple effect on the game. The linesman then added salt to the wound by failing to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic offside in the 78th minute, whose subsequent goal gave Manchester United the three points.
This clear lack of refereeing skill has given way to renewed cries for video technology to be introduced. Many people agree that the time has come for video replays to be accessible for referees during matches. This happened with goal-line technology so why not take this further? The only way to ease refereeing pressure is to ensure that they do not judge an incident from only one look at it. Lack of technology in this way currently means that players are able to influence officials with their reactions, and some players are better than others when it comes to the theatrics.
Video replays may slow down the game but surely only by a minute or so at a time. If a separate official has access to video technology and communication with the referee, they should have seen, judged and relayed their decision by the time the whistle is blown. Some incidents will take a while to judge and some will be instant: this is how the game is at the moment. With added technology, the integrity of the decisions made will be assured.
However, others argue that video technology will spoil the game. It is questioned how the referees will be able to determine which incidents need a replay and which can be decided on the spot. Will the game have to pause after every incident for it to be decided whether it was even an incident? This will only confuse the game and quash the flow. Video technology will also rely on one person’s interpretation anyway, even if they get a replay of what happened. Isn’t that just the same as what happens now? With all these questions in mind, there is the possibility that the tweaks behind video technology still need to be worked out. In the meantime other solutions should be explored to help referees now.
A system of official ratings could be introduced to show referees exactly where their weaknesses lie so that they can improve. It would be hard to impose fines for poor performances, but if referees were expected to justify their decisions, there would be less arrogance among them. This could also help the way in which future officials are trained to react quickly and process information.
Consistency is key when your job is to maintain the quality of such a passionate sport. The job of a match official should not be underestimated but also should no longer be so protected. The ‘dissent’ rule is a perfect example of the power the referees hold in dictating the consistency of the game. At the beginning of the season there was an abundance of yellow cards given for ‘dissent’ but that has now died down. Whilst controversial, such a simple rule has seemingly been deemed unimportant by referees.
It is time that football moves forward. In the same way that tactics, finances and resources are expanding, the world of match officiating must do the same. Of course, controversy in football is important. Passions run high in this sport so the referee is not going to please everyone: to expect that from accountability would be foolish. But they now need to be responsible. In the same way that clubs, players and managers are penalised for their actions, why should the same not apply to referees?